Business

A London-based family office, a German aristocratic family, and thousands of acres in Zimbabwe

Two European family dynasties, one owning a London-based family office and the other heralding from one of the grandest aristocratic families in central Europe, could be in for a big windfall involving a Zimbabwe land restitution case.

The case centres on land taken from the von Pezold family during the reign of Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe, who instigated a series of often brutal land redistribution policies. Compensation linked to the case could be worth up to $200 million, say reports. 

To help manage their assets in Africa, the Pezolds entered into a joint venture with the Hoegh family, who own the eponymous Norwegian shipping company and many other assets

The von Pezold family, an aristocratic dynasty heralding from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, bought thousands of acres of land in Zimbabwe in the last 1980s. Some of that land is still owned by the family and managed by Zimbabwe-based Heinrich von Pezold, the eldest son of now-deceased Rüdiger von Pezold, who bought the land.  

Heinrich and other members of the von Pezold have been fighting a long-running legal battle with the Zimbabwe government for compensation for their land seized. Those efforts have entered a new phase, say reports, after the Zimbabwe government recently received a letter from a US law firm regarding compensation. 

And, although frustrated with their earlier attempts for compensation, the von Pezolds might be close to resolving the case with the Zimbabwean government. Reports suggest president Emmerson Mnangagwa has looked into raising funds to compensate white farms in his country. Compensation for farmers’ land seized during the Mugabe years is part of the international community’s demands for lifting sanctions on Zimbabwe, and Mnangagwa is keen to have this happen.  

With all this going on, to help manage their assets in Africa, the Pezolds entered into a joint venture with the Hoegh family, who own the eponymous Norwegian shipping company and many other assets. That joint venture in 2012 led to the formation of the Rift Valley Corporation, which is also linked to the London-based family office Höegh Capital Partners, whose owner is Leif Hoegh. 

Over time, the Hoeghs gained the majority shareholding of Rift Valley, which is involved in forestry, tobacco, and coffee production across Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The Harare-based business and investment group also has an energy subsidiary. It is well placed to gain from any land compensation agreed between the Zimbabwe government and the von Pezolds. Zimbabwe’s agricultural land is among the most fertile in Africa. 

Other von Pezolds reside in Europe, including Felix von Pezold, whose wife is Marie-Christine von Pezold. Interestingly, Marie-Christine is a well-known figure in the family business world; as well as being a director of the Family Business Network in Switzerland, she also heads Swiss bank Lombard Odier’s family governance efforts.

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